Untitled Essay, Research Paper
Bartleby, the Failure
It is not rare, sometimes it is even common, that an author speaks about
his or her self in their works. Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener”
is often considered such a story. Many of the characters in the story and
images created allude to Melville’s writing career, which was generally deemed
a failure. The main character in the story can either be Bartleby or the
narrator, but Melville partially embodies both of them.
We are understanding towards the narrator’s reasoning for keeping Bartleby
and for the sympathy he shows for Bartleby. After the general failure of
Moby Dick, at least in Melville’s time, he immediately wrote Pierre, which
was a deeply personal novel. This self pity could have been continued in
“Bartleby, the Scrivener”. In addition, Bartleby seemed to feel that continuing
copying was worthless, possibly from spending many years in a dead letter
office. Melville probably felt this way, but needed to continue writing to
support his family. When Bartleby is in prison, he wastes away without abruptly
dying, a degeneration until the point no one notices his absence. Melville
had reached the prime of his popularity early in his career, so when he published
Moby Dick, his career was already in decline. His disappointment was only
to increase as his career diminished until his death which was hardly noticed
in the literary community.
The narrator also resembles Melville, but in a different way. Melville uses
the narrator to view his own situation from a 3rd person perspective. He
attempts, and is somewhat successful, in getting readers to feel sympathy
for Bartleby, therefore, sympathy for him. On the contrary, the narrator
also scorns Bartleby’s persistence after he stops copying: “In plain fact,
he had now become a millstone to me…”(1149). In this respect, the narrator
also represents Melville’s literary critics.
Behind the relationship between Melville, the narrator, and Bartleby, one
can also see the relationship between the narrator and an ideal audience
that Melville would have wanted. He probably wished that his writing would
be more popular among the readers, although he professed his own demise with
Bartleby’s atrophy. His other employees, Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut,
were similar to other writers who inspired Melville, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The narrator describes them as “most valuable” and “accomplishing a great
deal”(1133). However, this inspiration from other authors could have depressed
Melville, who was not nearly as successful.
In “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, Melville tries to relate to the reader and
explain his declining situation. This story, on an allegorical level represents
Melville, his life, and what he wished his reading audience would understand
about him. This is probably what he wanted, but readers, initially, see a
melancholy story about the condition of humanity.